Earlier this morning, I found myself sitting in the office with Todd and Dave having a discussion on what we believe to be the “best” warm-up routine for lifting. Before I dig deeper into our consensus, let’s touch on the most common types of warm-up routines that we see performed in the gym.
1) Static stretching: I’d venture to say that this might be the most common warm-up routine that you will see. With static stretching, a position is held for a specific length of time in order to lengthen the muscle while simultaneously promoting blood flow into the muscle being stretched. Examples of this include hamstring and quad stretches, Pigeon stretch, doorway stretch, etc.
2) Dynamic stretching: This consists of performing repetitive movements within a particular range of motion that are closely related to the main movement of that particular training session. As with static stretching, the goal is to promote blood flow throughout the body and specifically in the area of intended use for that training session. An example of this could be PVC around the world, walking knee hugs, Spiderman hip stretch, etc.
3) Cardiovascular based warm-up: This includes 5-10 minutes of movement on machines such as treadmills, bikes, rowers, ellipticals, etc. The goal here is to increase heart rate in order to circulate blood flow throughout the entire body while raising the internal temperature of the muscles in preparation for performing movement.
4) Getting under the bar and getting straight to work: I see this quite often, regardless of age or experience level. An individual will walk in, place the bar in the rack, throw some weight on, and start performing their main movement.
So which one did we decide on? Well, all of them can be beneficial in their own way, and when incorporated properly. However, too much of anything can be a bad thing, and too much emphasis on any of these can directly impact the overall success of your session. What we often see is too much time spent on stretching and warming up, and not enough time and focus being placed on the specificity of the main movements. At the same time, by walking into the gym and instantly jumping under a bar, you may be missing out on getting the body best prepared to perform to the best of it’s ability once your muscles are loaded with heavy weights. At the end of the day, the warm-up best suited for you is whatever is needed for you to be able to get into the positions needed to best perform your lifts. For example, performing shoulder movements that will allow you to get under a barbell in the best position to perform your squat, or hip drills that allow you to open up your hips & properly use your glutes in order to get into the bottom portion of the squat. Unless you are performing specific rehab movements, or are working around a very specific injury, the more time that is spent on performing a warm-up, the more time that you are taking away from the most important part of the training session.
So, keep your warm-ups limited to only the things that you feel are necessary. Get your heart rate up, get a sweat going, get your muscles loose and firing, and get to work. Spend as much of the time that you have available focused on getting better at your lifts, and you’ll end up right where you want to be.